In most families there is some fighting. There are inevitably arguments, some bickering, hassling each other and, usually, some sort of fighting. Whether all this is harmful to the kids or not depends on its frequency and intensity. An angry outburst once a year is probably harmless, providing that it involves no physical abuse, aggression or threats of divorce. Fights that happen every couple of weeks or more are likely to be very disturbing to the kids. Too much conflict threatens the basic stability of the family. Even if the fights are relatively mild, the unpleasant scenes make children feel unsettled and insecure. If the fighting is loud, scary, and very emotional, it is particularly disturbing to the kids. It can even lead to children’s nightmares, nervous habits, school problems and behavior problems. Parents really need to limit their conflict, if not for their own sake, then at least for the sake of the children.
Actions to Avoid in Fighting
Some ground rules for conflict will help preserve marriages and make children feel safer. Here is a list of things NEVER to do when arguing with a spouse:
- never slam a door, hang up a phone or storm out of a house
- never swear
- never call names or hurl hurtful, diminishing insults
- never threaten violence
- never threaten divorce
- never shout
- never drive “crazy” when arguing in a car
Keeping Kids Safe
By deescalating conflict, parents can help their kids enjoy a safe family life. Arguing quietly and respectfully provides a healthy model for the kids too. It shows them how to behave toward their parents and toward their own spouses one day. (Providing a bad model of conflict resolution means that kids will learn the “wrong” way to behave in marriage and it also means that they never get to see the “right” way – their lives will be harder because of this.) The short list of what-not-to-do when arguing is within the reach of all normal people. Only those with serious mental illness cannot control their hostility – healthy adults can LEARN to change their destructive behavior patterns. It make take a few months to totally remove all frightening behaviors from one’s repertoire, but that’s O.K. Once it’s done, a parent can give his or her child the gift of security. Even if only one parent is able to make the change, the kids will benefit. What’s worse than one parent losing control? Two parents losing control! Don’t wait for your spouse to change; make your own changes today.
If change is difficult, or despite removing destructive behaviors there are still numerous marital issues, do your kids a favor and get marital counseling. Choose a counselor who is pro-marriage (not all are). Ask someone to help you reduce conflict and provide a calmer, more loving and more stable home environment. And don’t wait until you’re on the verge of divorce to do this. Do it now. You may be amazed at how powerfully positive marriage counseling can be.
Parents Set the Tone
It’s up to you. Parents set the tone in the home. You can’t expect your kids to do better at self-control than you can – you’ve got to show them the way and give them something to strive toward. Read books, take courses, seek counseling, but most of all – determine to remove destructive communication from your personal repetoire. You can do it!